The painting hangs on a light grey, dappled wall in a room where it is the only picture. It rests in a thick, walnut brown, particle board, mid-century walnut frame. The wooden frame has staggered steppes going into its centre, towards the picture, like a Mayan terrace garden. You can see the black lines of the imitation wood grain running the length of each portion of the frame; intermittently interrupted by a scuff or scratch that discreetly reveals the pressboard beneath. It is not ornate. It is most definitely wrong for the print inside of it, but Heather and I found it in this frame at a Goodwill in California and think that it must be in ensconced there for a reason. Plus we feel it would be pretentious to buy a frame for the one print of a painting that hangs off-centre on a side wall in our small, sparsely furnished bedroom.
Next to the wall is a bed with no frame. Mattress and box springs rest on a bare hardwood floor. Clothes, books, and paper litter my side of the room on the floor next to the bed. Heather’s side is clean, neat, spotless, immaculate. My side looks like I think no one will ever see my mess. Heather’s side looks like she is ready to entertain company. When I rise in the mornings and see the picture, I ache. I sometimes catch Heather looking pained too.
The print itself is beautiful. Oranges, yellows, and reds, and seemingly every hue of blue. The print is of Van Gogh’s Café Terrace at Night. In the centre of the painting is the outside of a French café. People sit at the tables on the bright orange and yellow deck. Others stroll the darkened street under bright swirling stars nestled in dark blue sky. All of this is performed in the harsh brush strokes and dabs of the world’s most famous and prolific Impressionist. It is a painting of the place Heather wants to live. The place Heather hopes to live. A place we’ll probably never live.
The stark contrast of the painting to the disparity of the frame encapsulating it speaks to me. It is both a call to live better and a reminder of my failures. I promised her the world. Instead, I gave her a window into the life she’s always wanted. A masterpiece contained in a beat up frame. Paris contained in a small American bedroom.
William Nichols is 42 years old. He has been married to his wonderful wife Heather for 17 yearsand they have four beautiful children. He is a medically retired Army Veteran with one deployment to Iraq as a Medic in the 82nd Airborne Division with ten years of service in the United States Army. He is currently a student at Portland State University, working towards a Bachelor’s in Fine Arts in Creative Writing.
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The Ekphrastic Review